Twanglish Lesson: Poke (featuring Tony Joe White)

I’m sure most of these young ‘uns today would think “poke” is something you do on the Facebooks. (Actually, they’d probably say poke is something you used to do on Facebook. Poking is so 2010…)

Some may use it to refer to moving slowly, or being one who does. Others might believe it’s an activity involving a stick or a pointy finger. And yet others will have a slightly more salacious twist on that last definition. (The twist is key.)

But you can take all those definition and tie ’em up in a…

Poke –noun  1. A sack or bag, often made of burlap, but not exclusively

Throw them buhtayduhs in a poke and take ’em to yer Granny.

According to the internets, the usage of the word poke to mean a bag or sack dates back to 15th century England. It is derived from the  French poque, but we’ll keep using it despite all the ancient Frenchiness.

This is also the origin of the phrase “a pig in a poke,” which refers to buying something sight unseen. The lesson here: if you’re going to buy a pig for your supper, take him out of the poke first and have a good look.

There’s yet another, even more uniquely Southern definition of the word, though:

Poke –noun  2. Phytolacca americana, a weed common in the American Southeast, parts of which are highly toxic, but that is used as a food substance in its juvenile form. Also known as Virginia Poke, Pokeweed, Poke Salat or Polk Salad.

Annie, go pick me a mess o’ poke salat and throw it in a poke.

Of course, we had to name our fictional poke-picker Annie. Tony Joe White wouldn’t have it any other way:

4 Responses to “Twanglish Lesson: Poke (featuring Tony Joe White)”

  1. The song implies a difference between a poke and a “tow-sack.” Is there a practical difference, or perhaps the phrase was included simply to avoid a redundancy? Surely a poke includes a sack large enough to drag behind you, as implied in the description “tow-sack” unless a poke is understood by definition to mean a sack one carries rather than drags.

  2. “Tow” sack has nothing to do with “towing”, as in dragging the sack, but rather wht it is made of…tow. Burlap, sisal, hemp…tow is loose fibers of the stuff that when spun into threads, can be woven into sack-cloth and made into tow sack, gunnysack, or poke. Hope this helps muddy the waters of our Southron language a little more for you.

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